Fanning McCarthyist flames, Yoon says he’ll do what must be done about independence fighter’s bust

Posted on : 2023-08-30 16:46 KST Modified on : 2023-08-30 16:55 KST
This is the first time any comments by the president regarding the controversy surrounding the bust have become public
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Aug. 29. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Aug. 29. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol reportedly instructed his Cabinet to “consider what is right,” and expressed that his administration is willing to do what needs to be done in response to the controversy over the removal of independence activist Gen. Hong Beom-do’s bust at the Korea Military Academy.

This can be interpreted as an expression of willingness by Yoon to continue his ideological crusade by suggesting that busts commemorating Hong should be removed from the Korea Military Academy and the Ministry of National Defense.

During Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting at the Yongsan presidential office, Yoon reportedly addressed the issue of removing Hong’s bust by advising State Council members to “keep a sharp eye out for materials that need reevaluation,” according to attendees.

“I would like you all to decide what is right without my intervention,” the president reportedly remarked, referring to Soviet government documents unearthed shortly after Seoul and Moscow established diplomatic ties in 1991.

This is the first time any comments by the president regarding the controversy surrounding the bust have become public.

The Ministry of National Defense had, on Monday, raised suspicions based on Soviet documents of Hong’s involvement in what’s known as the “Free City Disaster” of June 1921 in Svobodny, Siberia.

“I hardly have to mention the Zheng Lücheng history park, and now we have the problem of Hong’s bust. What’s the right thing to do?” Yoon asked at the meeting. “Some believe that it is not prudent to wade into political debates over history, but should we leave something be if it is wrong? If a decision must be made, we [this administration] will gladly do what must be done.”

Accounts of the meeting show Yoon appearing willing to openly wage ideological warfare.

“Ideology is direction. We need to know which direction we’re heading. Not being able to fix a set course won’t do,” the president reportedly said at the meeting. “Not fighting won’t make you any stronger. If attacks are coming from all sides, you shouldn’t cower, but respond with dignity.”

Recently, Yoon has repeatedly sent messages openly expressing hostility toward his critics, demonstrating that he views the political sphere as an arena for ideological warfare.

At a banquet for People Power Party lawmakers on Monday, the president directly targeted the Moon Jae-in administration by stating that “an outdated, fraudulent ideology surrounded us,” “everything it accounted for was fraudulent, and nothing about it is substantial,” and “thinking about what would have happened to this country if we hadn’t taken the helm makes me shudder.”

Yoon additionally said that those who criticized the release of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant were people who “would say that one plus one equals 100,” and that there was “no choice but to fight” these forces.

Taking aim at the political sphere and the media, he claimed, “We have an opposition majority, and all the media are controlled by the opposition, so they are criticizing our government 24 hours a day.”

He compared the conservative and liberal camps to the “left and right wings of a bird,” and stated that the direction in which a bird flies “must be determined for the left and right wings to work together.”

“Conservatives and liberals, left and right, should work together to develop growth and distribution, but we shouldn’t disagree on which way we’re flying. It won’t do if we want to go forward but the other party wants to go backward,” he said at the party banquet.

Yoon’s recent rhetoric betrays his apparent understanding that only the president knows the “correct” direction a society should head in, and which ideologies should be followed, while the diversity of views, debate, and compromise integral to a democratic society are being treated as obstacles.

Yoon’s perception that “communist totalitarianism” is a major existential threat to South Korean society seems particularly out of step with the majority of South Koreans.

Even when meeting with executive members of the Peaceful Unification Advisory Council, Yoon did not withhold scathing comments aimed at his critics.

He reiterated sentiments he expressed in his National Liberation Day speech by stating, “In our reality, in which exists a division between liberal democracy and communist totalitarianism, communist forces and their dutiful followers, as well as opportunistic lackeys, will never stop engaging in psychological warfare to disrupt free society through fabrications and propaganda.”

Yoon’s increasingly intense ideological offensive against the opposition is prompting concern on both sides of the aisle.

“The government’s recent focus on waging ideological war is concerning to those in the middle class, as they value the livelihood of the people over everything,” commented Ahn Cheol-soo, a lawmaker with the ruling party.

“We currently have a president who will not fight with Japan for discharging contaminated water, but who will act aggressively toward our own people for opposing Japan’s behavior,” remarked former lawmaker Yoo Seong-min. “If we oppose the discharge, does that make us ‘uncivilized citizens’ who do not know how to count?”

Lee Jae-myung, who leads the opposition Democratic Party, criticized Yoon, saying, “Not only is he incapable of promoting national unity, but he constantly divides the people, promotes conflicts, and promotes political interests rather than the lives of the people.”

Chae Jin-won, a professor at the Institute of Public Governance at Kyung Hee University, pointed out contradictions in the rhetoric from the government. “The government claims to believe in freedom while bringing anachronistic ideological issues to the surface and using extremist language while talking about fairness and common sense,” he said.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter; Lee Woo-yun, staff reporter

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